Q&A with poet, writer, educator, and activist Nancy Mercado: Documents the beauty and the injustices of our world

"The Nuyorican Movement has enlightened other poetic and artistic movements with the raw truths of life lived in urban landscapes; whether real or imagined."

Nancy Mercado: The Passion of Nuyorican Poetry

The recipient of an American Book Award for Lifetime Achievement and named among the Frederick Douglass 200 on the anniversary of Douglass' birthday, Nancy Mercado is the editor of the Nuyorican Women Writers Anthology published in Voices e/Magazine, a Hunter College City University of New York online literary journal. She is a guest curator for the Museum of American Poetics and assistant editor for Eco-poetry.org; a web site dedicated to addressing the issue of climate crises. Mercado also created Eco-Poetry's companion FaceBook page. Over the years, she has presented her work throughout the US and abroad for such institutions and places as, the University of Nantes, France, the Society for the Study of the Multi-Ethnic Literature of the United States (MELUS), the Association of Writers and Writing Programs Conference (AWP), The Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation Poetry Festival and in Havana, Cuba where she was invited to presented her work at Casa de las Americas.                           Nancy Mercado / Photo by Ricardo Muñiz 

A writer, editor, activist and educator, Mercado was featured on National Public Radio’s The Talk of the Nation, and the PBS NewsHour Special: America Remembers 9/11. Also featured in The Encyclopedia of Hispanic American Literature (Facts on File) and inducted into The Museum of American Poetics, she is profiled in Latino Leaders Magazine, as “one of the most celebrated members of the Puerto Rican literary movement in the Big Apple.” Nancy Mercado’s work has been extensively anthologized in award winning literary collections such as Powwow, American Short Fiction from Then to Now, edited by Ishmael Reed (De Capo Press), Changer L’Amérique Anthologie De La Poésie Protestataire Des USA (Maison De La Poésie, France) and ALOUD Voices from the Nuyorican Poets Cafe, edited by Miguel Algarin and Bob Holman (Holt Paperbacks) among many others. She served as the Guest Editor of Phati’tude Literary Magazine’s issue; ¿What’s in a Nombre? Writing Latin@ Identity in America, and as an editor of the acclaimed underground literary and art publication: Long Shot for 11 years; also serving as the publication’s editor-in-chief for one of those years. The author of: It Concerns the Madness (Long Shot Productions), the coloring book: Las Tres Hermanas (Casita Maria) and the editor of if the world were mind; a children’s anthology published jointly by ASPIRA, International Youth Organization, The Leaguers Inc., Newark Housing Authority and FOCUS, Mercado has also authored 7 theater plays which have all been produced. Nancy Mercado continues to present her work throughout the US and abroad as a featured poet and conference panelist. She received her PhD from Binghamton University, SUNY and is currently an Associate Professor in New York City.

Interview by Michael Limnios

What are some of the most important lessons you have learned from your experience in the Nuyorican Movement?

Some of the lessons I’ve learned include: 1) speaking truth in my work, 2) taking pride in who I am 3) appreciating the reality of my life 4) loving my culture, heritage and my community.

How would you characterize the philosophy of Nancy Mercado's poetry? Where does your creative drive come from?

Document the beauty and the injustices of our world.

My drive comes from my passion.

What has been the relationship: music and poetry in your life? How does music affect your mood and inspiration?

Music is incredibly important for my work. When I sometimes, set out to write while listening to music, I find my words describe in metaphors what the music says in harmonious sounds.

Do you consider the Nuyorican Movement a specific literary and artistic movement or do you think it’s a state of mind?

The Nuyorican Literary Movement is both.

Photo: Piri Thomas, Amiri Baraka, Amina Baraka, Allen Ginsberg, Miguel Algarín, Nancy Mercado, Donald Lev, Taylor Meade, Bob Holman, Mikhail Horowitz and Pedro Pietri, The Village Gate, NYC (Photo by Marlis Momber, c.1986)

Which acquaintances have been the most important experiences? What was the best advice anyone ever gave you? 

Although the people mentioned are more than acquaintances, the list is as follows: My parents and grandparents, the founder of the movement and of the Nuyorican Poets Café- Miguel Algarin. Also: Allen Ginsberg, Pedro Pietri, Ishmael Reed, Amiri Baraka, Ana Castillo, Dan Shot, Daniela Gioseffi, to name a few.

Pedro Pietri told me once: “Don’t think.”

What do you miss most nowadays from the poetry of past? What are your hopes and fears for the future of?

I miss the rawness of past poetry and life.

My hope for the future and fear is that we reverse our course of destruction and that we’re able to regenerate most of what we’ve destroyed.

If you could change one thing in the world/people and it would become a reality, what would that be?

The nature of human beings; that all of us may become peaceful, altruistic, compassionate, giving, humble towards each other, towards all other beings and toward Earth.

How has the Beat Movement Influenced your views of the world and the journeys you’ve taken?

If it were not for the Beat Movement, the Nuyorican Movement would not exist.

What is the impact of Nuyorican Movement to the racial, feminist, political, and socio-cultural implications?  

The Nuyorican Movement has enlightened other poetic and artistic movements with the raw truths of life lived in urban landscapes; whether real or imagined.

Where would you really want to go with a time machine and what memorabilia (books, records) would you put in?

I would like to visit the Arawak /Taino nation during their height in Puerto Rico (Borinquen). I would take photos of my family, a blank book, dictionary and pens to write.

Nancy Mercado - Home

Photo by Ricardo Muñiz 

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